6 Key Steps in Designing an Effective Employee Training Program

Designing an effective training and development program starts with a good plan.  As with any type of major project, there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of, and without a good plan it can be difficult to make sure that the design of your program accomplishes the objectives it’s supposed to, and that everything’s in place when you need it.  To help you develop an effective plan for designing your training program, this article discusses 6 key steps that experts say a training plan should include.

Step 1: Identify the Real Need for Training and Desired Changes in Behavior

Often requests for training come in general terms that are more prescriptions on solving a problem than a real training need. Because there’s a problem, the assumption is that training is the best and perhaps only way to solve it.  That may or may not be the case. A real training need is where:

    • Someone needs to learn or enhance their knowledge about a subject.


    • Learn a new skill or enhance their existing skill level so they can do something better once they’ve mastered the material.


    •  The problem that caused the request for training can’t be solved by an easier method. (See the discussion below for alternatives to training.)

To help determine if training is appropriate, start by getting some background on why the person requesting a training program is doing so, and identifying the performance gaps or shortfalls that are happening.  To do so, ask these kinds of questions:

    • What is the actual thing that needs to be done or behavior that needs to occur?
    • What level of performance is required?
    • How can you measure success or failure?
    • What’s the gap at the present level from the desired level?
    • What does someone need to know to be able to perform at the desired level?
    • What does someone need to be able to do?
    • How can they demonstrate they know how to do it?

Once you’ve identified the desired performance and existing shortfall, you can analyze whether training is really the answer, or if there’s a more appropriate way of solving the problem.  Questions to ask include:

    • Can the problem be solved by using better tools or equipment?  This can include computer hardware and software, use of apps in mobile devices, etc.
    • Are the needed procedures written and easily accessible?
    • Would access to information solve the problem via a simple job aid?

If you find that the answer to solving the performance problem lies in using one of these alternative methods, you can recommend going in that direction and avoid unnecessary training.

Step 2: Define the program’s scope and objectives

If after going through the analysis, you decide that training is appropriate, you need to carefully define what the program will cover and its objectives.  It’s often easiest to start by defining the objectives and then making sure that the scope covers what’s necessary for participants to learn to meet these objectives.  To determine the objectives for the program, ask these types of questions:

    • What’s the overall goal for the program?  Examples may be something like “the goal of this workshop is to help participants learn how to effectively delegate tasks and responsibilities”.
    • Specifically, what will the participant be able to do after mastering the material covered in the training?  Use specific actions to describe what you want people to be able to do, such as:
      • Identify appropriate tasks and responsibilities to delegate.
      • Use procedures covered in the course to do something specific.
      • Describe something they’ve learned to someone else”, etc.

A common list of descriptions for various levels of learning is Bloom’s Taxonomy.   It provides categories describing what someone can do with the material they’ve learned ranging from simply recalling it to using it to create something new.

Note: Old Dominion University has an easy to use list of these descriptions available at http://www.odu.edu/educ/roverbau/Bloom/blooms_taxonomy.htm.

Step 3: Develop a High Level Design

Once you’ve defined that program’s scope and objectives, you should develop an overall program design.  Start by identifying the major topic areas based on what you’ve identified the participants need to learn.  Then identify appropriate instructional methods (lecture, presentation, group discussion, self instruction, etc.) and appropriate exercises or opportunities for practice.  To summarize the design, it’s often helpful to prepare a course description that covers:

    • The General Purpose of the Program
    • The Length
    • The Target Audience
    • Name of the  Management Sponsor(s)
    • List of Topics
    • Learning Objectives
    • Format of the Program
      • Live classroom with all learners present in same location.
      • Online classroom where learners can participate from multiple locations.
      • E-learning offline
      • Etc.
    • Principal Instructional Methods
      • Formal Presentation and how it will be done (lecture, slides, demonstrations, videos, etc.)
      • Types of Exercises or Opportunities for Practice
    • Modules and Topics in each Module
    • Participant Materials if any
    • Content of Leader’s Guide

This description can be extremely helpful in getting agreement and buy-in/support for your program and agreement on the design from the people requesting it before you start development.  It can also serve as a useful tool to help potential participants evaluate if the program will be beneficial for them to attend.

Step 4: Design of Instructional Materials

Based on your overall design, you need to develop a detailed plan for the program’s instructional materials. Examples of instructional materials include:

    • Lecture/Presentation often using visual aids such as PowerPoint slides, chart pads, videos, etc.
    • Physical demonstrations of how to do something.
    • Exercises such as subgroup discussions, role plays, case studies, individual practice, etc.

Most programs use a mix.  A short lecture or presentation may be used to go over key concepts, followed by the participants putting what’s been covered to use in an exercise, for example.  Or the leader may give a demonstration and then have participants try it on their own.  In general the appropriate type and mix of instructional materials need to:

    • Be based on the participants’ present level of understanding or ability.
    • Cover how to do things in the desired manner.
    • Contain practical information on how to apply the learning in the real world situations that participants are going to face.
    • Present information in bite sized chunks so participants don’t get overwhelmed.
    • Provide sufficient opportunity for practice.
    • Include appropriate support materials that the learner can refer to afterwards.

Step 5: A Way of Evaluating the Program’s Effectiveness

In today’s tight economy, with the focus on the bottom line, it’s essential that you have a plan for evaluating the program’s effectiveness.  These measures need to be easy to understand and convey useful information on whether participants are learning and using the material covered in the program in the way you envisioned.  For years, experts have suggested measuring program effectiveness in 4 quadrants known as the Kirkpatrick model.  In simple terms they measure:

    • Participants’ immediate reaction to the training.  Did they like it? Did they find it effective, etc.
    • Participants’ grasp of the material.
    • The level of usage back at work.
    • Whether the desired results are being achieved by using the learning, and the accompanying return on investment.

Step 6: Develop A Project Plan

Now that you have an understanding of the first 5 key steps of designing a training program, you need to develop an actual project plan to accomplish them.  The plan needs to reflect principal work tasks, who needs to be involved and their level of involvement, schedules for completing tasks, budget amounts, etc. Some of the major work blocks to include in the plan are:

    • Needs Analysis
    • Program Scope & Objectives Definition
    • Program Design
    • Design and preparation of Instructional Materials
    • Preparation of Leader’s Guides
    • Logistics
    • Facilitator Training
    • Program Facilitation
    • Plan for Evaluation

Where to Learn More

There are several resources you can go to get additional information.

Samples:  You can see samples of KAW Consulting’s Off-the-Shelf programs developed using these methods.

Click Here for information on “Delegating For Results”

Click Here for information on “The New Supervisor” 

Note: Courses Available to U.S. Purchasers Only.

Books:  A few books to look at include:

Training Design Basics (ASTD Training Basics) by Saul Carliner  Amazon

Adult Learning Basics (ASTD Training Basics Series) by William J. Rothwell Amazon

Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels by Donald L. Kirkpatrick PhD. And James D. Kirkpatrick